A deep-seated point of personal disappointment for me is that I love bottled water. I know I need to be more environmentally friendly, but tap water grosses me out. And, after having seen the 2010 documentary “Gasland,” a breakthrough documentary on natural gas extraction, or “fracking,” I’m even sending the water I give my cats through a Brita filter.
Oct. 30, the University of Wisconsin will begin a three-part forum series about fracking, including one session Nov. 13 that will address Wisconsin’s robust sand mining industry and what it means to rural communities and their environment. While this is all very nice, the fracking industry is literally bulldozing ahead in northern Wisconsin, and, for my money, we probably won’t want to stop it.
If you’ve seen “Gasland,” then you know fracking is a method by which companies drill into shale deposits and basically initiate small earthquakes to free up naturally occurring gas deposits. This would be nice, since natural gas is a cleaner alternative than oil.
However, it’s not so good because it can contaminate drinking water supplies, both with natural gas and with one of the volatile organic compounds used to extract it. But that wouldn’t happen in Wisconsin: We don’t have the shale deposits fracking companies need. Instead, we have sand – very special sand – that’s a byproduct in the fracking industry.
A problem, though, is that this mining is tearing up our own Wisconsin environment.
“Some worry sand mining endangers air quality, uses too much water, generates unacceptable levels of noise, damages roads and threatens tourism,” The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism found. Furthermore, because of the sand’s availability, mines are being opened everywhere. This includes a mine that was recently blocked from being built across from a K-12 school.
Is this going to matter to rural Wisconsinites? Likely not. Frac sand mining is becoming a huge economic boom and is breathing life into Wisconsin livelihoods that were otherwise trending in the direction of unemployment and poverty. In an industry that can employ about 2,780 people with starting wages at $15-$20, that’s no small chunk of change being pumped into the Wisconsin economy.
So while the UW is planning to play host to a lecture series on fracking, it must give it dimension if it truly wants to inform the public about Wisconsin’s role in domestic fuel production. Since the president of the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association will be giving a talk, it looks as though UW has made somewhat of an effort to include both sides, but it must be very sure it’s truly representing what the industry means to our state.
Taylor Nye (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in human evolutionary biology, archaeology and Latin American studies.